Writing this with a glass of bubbly in my “suite” on board the VS12 heading back to London after a few glorious days of testing lobsters, clam chowders etc. on the coast of New England. More on that later…

Back to the collabo or rather…..

Handcuffed, three legged and joined at the waist effort by two uber amazing chefs, working together in a hot, steamy, “sensually arousing” kitchen surrounded by  unusual ingredients scoured from around the world.

The dishes were well balanced and matched each other course after course. A delightful evening enhanced by a great choice of wines from Hama-San’s personal wine collection.

The menu:

  • Sea Urchin Flan covered with Snow (KY)
  • Truffled Tofu with Smoked Aubergine (NM)
  • Crab Salad “Delices” (KY)
  • Onion Soup Moderne (NM)
  • Monk Fish with the 7 Tools (KY)
  • “Umami” Del Mar a la Montagna-Memories of San Sebastian (NM)
  • Orange Skin Puree with Lemongrass Royal (NM)
  • Winter Scene (KY)


La Regola Tasting Notes

Notes from Tasting in Milano Italy, 2nd December 2009

Steccaia 2008

85% Vermentino, 15%Sauvignon Blanc. Clean-ish cork… if anything… very very slightly musky. Fab lemon yellow wine with fragrant white flowers – jasmine, lemon blossom on nose. The wine itself was fresh. Lots of tropical fruits ending with a great zing of bitter lemons. Good crisp acidity and a great length for a Vermentino. Would be lovely served with seafood, it’s natural partner. Overall, great wine for the price. Voted by tasters as the best white wine of the evening.

Rosegola 2008

Sangiovese Syrah and Merlot mix. Clean cork. Clear clear clean exuberant crimson wine. One of the freshest rosés I have ever tasted. Redcurrants, strawberries, nectarines. Complexity was fabulous with the delicate, fruity start, a middle of intermingled three grape varieties all in one mouthful, ending with a fabulous spicy, tingling finish. The length was just a little short but the freshness of the wine made up for this. This wine is perfect to drink on a summer’s afternoon with some chicken salad or grilled meat, sausages or just with some salumi. Interesting to note that after 3 hours, this wine was re tasted and was just tired and had lost all it’s fabulous properties. As per all rosé wines, the tasters were mixed about this bottle but I suspect that if I had served this on a warm summer’s evening, in an ice bucket with some grilled chicken overlooking the Tuscan hills, the verdict would be very very different

Lauro 2008

dsc01088-3-2.jpg 50% Chradonnay 50% Viognier. First impression… rather unprofessional with the label overwritten… 2008 from the original label that read 2006 in black pen! The cork was clean. A slight pinkish tinge to the straw coloured wine. It almost seemed a little oxidised and a little tired. Floral notes were more accented in this wine, with more viognier characteristics coming through over the chardonnay and oak. The matrimony of the chardonnay and viogier were not quite balanced. The finish was disappointing. Both bottles were opened and both displayed same characteristics. I would like to re-taste this wine as I do believe this wine could be better!

Vallino (della conche) 2005

Montescudaio DOC Cabernet Sauvignon. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Sangiovese 5% Syrah. Clean cork. A luscious ruby red. Black berries and black cherries on the nose. A nice fat juicy number. Beautifully balanced with lots and lots of luscious ripe plums, leather, rounded tannins and a hint of chocolate. A little farmyard like but this is typical of sangiovese which this wine has 10%. It is NOT a negative but shows true Italian style. The spice notes at the end were delicious. Black pepper galore. Ever so slightly disappointing on the finish with a rather short length but the wine itself made up for this well priced Super Tuscan. Drinks very well and is an ‘easy to please’ wine. Would match roast beef or lamb, pasta with a rich, hearty ragu and possibly some good mature cheeses. This wine from “the hollows” or “the valley” was well enjoyed by the tasters, however with big brothers Beloro and La Regola there was better to come.

Beloro 2005

Montescudaio DOC Sangiovese. Solo Sangiovese (100%). The cork was fragrant, having absorbed the nuances of this bottle of wine. Legs. Torpente coloured wine with a nose that was powerfully enticing over the little farmyard-ness that is so typical of the sangiovese grape. An extremely complex and balanced wine with all the characteristics you would be expecting! Mulberries, blackberries, prunes, spice, tobacco and a little leather. Ripe fruit and nice big tannins with a numbing szechuan peppercorn and minty finish. Good long length. A lot more years to go on this wine. Fab bottle and was the best of the lot! A big Wagyu steak and some really smelly ripe cheeses would go well with this wine. Tasted even better over the evening, concluding that this wine needs to breathe and should be opened for at least an hour or more before drinking. The tasters voted Beloro as the best red wine of the evening.

La Regola 2005

Montescudaio DOC Cabernet Franc. 85% Cabernet Franc 10% Merlot 5% Petit Verdot. Again a great nose on the cork. Cherries, plums, some blackberries but subdued. Green peppers and then some smoky cigars and leather coming through. An interesting wine with great tannins. Balanced rounded wine with peppery spicy finish. The feeling was that this big wine still needs time. In a few years, it would be interesting to see it’s evolvement.

La Regola Extra Virgin Olive oil 2009

dsc01021.jpg Leccino, Moraiolo, Frantoio Olives. A lovely fresh greeny yellow transparent colour. Dense, viscous and intensely nutty but fragrant nose with a hints of artichoke. La Regola’s rich thick texture is dominant, carrying lengthy under ripe fruit and extremely spicy but short finish. Perfectly matched with simple foods such as fresh green salad, over grilled meats or just to spice up some mozarella. Lots of bitter polypenols filled with antioxidants. Probably low Oleic acid content.


I would like to sincerely thank La Regola for generously providing the wines and olive oil for the tasting.

Podere La Regola Soc. Agricola Semplice

Owners : Luca and Flavio Nuti

Head office: Via A.Gramsci, 1 56046 Riparbella (PI) ITALY

tel. +39 0586 698145 fax + 39 0586 696833



Strings attached?

As I write this, there is an AMATI,  yes… a REAL life 400 year old Amati playing the gorgeous Allegro by Fiocco just feet beneath me and it’s distracting me senseless! Just as I thought my mega project of violins, bows, cases and all things musical for a teenager was over… there is even more to salivate. And the dream goes on.
Back on track….  The trials and tribulations of a gorky, thirteen year old with an achy jaw (braces just tightened) trying so ferociously hard to make similar tones to that  Italian ‘piece of wood’. An unexpected treat for me… though probably not so for Rebecca, putting up with Nat’s much lesser Cremonese version.
Now playing the hauntingly romantic Salut D’Amour by Elgar. Yummy.
It all started a fortnight ago, with a leisurely drive to Cheltenham to attend the Junior concert at the new Performing Arts Centre. The showpiece being the rather nice shiny brand new Fazioli Concert Grand donated by a very generous parent (anonymous, of course). There I was a proud parent sitting quietly in the new CLC regulation, terribly comfy and squeak-less green seat. The purpose built auditorium was very nice with even nicer acoustics.
The girls came on one at a time playing and singing their well rehearsed solos, with confidence and pomp. Nat came on stage. My heart beating, I fumbled with the monopod and my little credit card camera. I pressed the record button. Wow, the Fazioli – Pietro del Rhee – Otto A Hoyer combination just blew me. The sound was just amazing. Goose bumps and then… I started to tremble. The piece was just divine. With life, there is always a spanner thrown in the works. I had forgotten I was holding onto the monopod…. the camera was shaking… Nat had been a blur pretty much all the way through. The more I tried, the more I shook. Then it all ended… one beautiful piece, a moving green blob with the mighty Faz in the background. The music survived, but I guess, I now need a hovercraft moving at the right frequency to view the mp4.
ProCorda week next. Nat was packed off to the Violinist Intro course to the Viola. Thinking it would be a great idea, two fold:
  1. to give her exposure to a new instrument, and
  2. for me to get on with my work.
After a hard day at Prosecco, tasting almost 100 bottles of fizz, I came home to find a rather wobbly Nat at the end of a mobile. She had been given the Bach Brandenburg no.6 Viola de Gamba (2) part and had to sight read ‘a tempo’ in the alto clef that very evening!  If that wasn’t enough, 2 quintets and a Telemann Fantasia were put into her sticky hands. Concert was on the Sunday!
By 11pm, all was sorted, phone calls and emails flying, the staff were fantastic.
The concert was sensational. Musicians were a cut above and played beautifully, remembering that scores were dished out only days before. The staff were all just amazingly professional. A great day out and getting up at 6am on a sunday coupled with the 3.5 hour journey home was well worth it!  Best of all, Nat was accepted into the Junior chamber section for violin. Great kid, proud parents.

Month of Wine-ing

Wines, wines, wines… work, no song and definitely – NO women “of that sort” -anyway. It’s been a interesting few weeks.

The tastings started with an exquisite surprise. Akemi lovingly brought a bottle of prize winning handmade Gewuztraminer all the way back from Hokkaido.


The little treasure was pulled out of her bag of magic as she geisha-ed into the restaurant. This delicate japanese number proved it’s weight in gold. Lychees, mangoes and all thoughts “Gewuzie” were in this powerful Traminer yet so subtle and balanced. Delicious.

Wines of Argentina tasting. A day scouring through bottles of sparkling, white, red and a couple of interesting puddings. Torrontes and Malbec galore and then…. an “Amarone styled” made by a fine maker with certainly creative flair. The coffee man stationed in the foyer is still one of London’s best, serving REAL cappucinos and lattes with beautifully poured designer froth. The Empanades at this event are legendary.



Cremona City of Violins

One of my favourite places on Earth. Bright and early I got myself to Milan’s Centrale armed with €11 for the return ticket and before getting on to the train, direction Mantova, punching my ticket in the yellow box at the platform. If lucky, the train is the ‘fast’ direct to Cremona, if not – get ready to jump out at Codogno and run. There is usually a local chugger waiting, with the added adrenalin filled Italian game of “find the train”. This time, signed posted platform one, a great relief till I realised it was a long way away (almost to Cremona!!!).

cremona-1.jpg Headed for the Consorzio with L walking pass the statue of Stradivari in the main square. As ever, a friendly face to greet us. Organised a viewing and trial of a Baroque violin with one of the world’s best known baroque luthiers, Eduardo Gore for the afternoon. Directions were drawn on a bit of paper and we left to visit Pietro Del Rhee another great luthier. Tried a few fab bows on Rhee’s newly made Guarneri Del Gesu styled violin and we left to view the collection. L spent €5 and a good 30 minutes, gorking at the squillions of liras worth of string instruments including Stradivaris, Amatis, Guarneris and, and, and.. sadly no performance that day. If lucky (and I have been) the curator, Prof Musconi will pull out the Stradivari “Il Cremonese” and play a private recital if a group is available (for €1.50 each). This can be organised through Patti Kaden. Time permitting, she can organise a short lecture with a luthier on violin making and if there are any concerts, the Teatro Ponchielli is definitely worth the treat.

Lunch with Patti was at our usual Pizzeria Duomo run by 5 generations of pizza makers. NIcola the propietor is a character.

The Duomo is worth a visit and the remains of Santa Omobono, the patron saint of Cremona, lies in the crypt. Don’t leave Cremona without a jar of Mostarda di Cremona, a mustardy syrupy concoction of glacé fruit eaten with cheese and meats, especially the Bollito Misto.

Milan Flying Visit

4.30am the diesel engine is purring outside and I am paranoid the neighbours will complain. Quite why taxis just won’t switch off engines while waiting, I cannot fathom. After all, we are meant to think GREEN. Quietly shutting the door (if that is ever possible) and for the first time in years, I don’t have to alarm the house, the bane of my life as I am never sure I’ve done everything. Taps, windows, lights.. then getting the code right, without alerting the police.

There’s actually someone home and not the husband!

The ride is quick. Straight through security as check in was done a week earlier. I had only handluggage to struggle with so into the lounge. Yes, proper duppio and some bottled water. The WiFi was free. Quick emails….. how impressive is that, at 5.30am in the morning!!! A quick read of the papers and I head off to the gate. Flights are always on time this early. The staff are great after a night’s sleep and even the jokes aren’t as cheesy. Dead on time for the take off slot and we’re off.

Milan terminal 2, ten minutes early. I’m on a roll. The Malpensa Express at €11.50 is really not that painful, 40 minutes and you are in downtown Milano, so I thought. Wrong choice. We ended up being pushed or pulled (I can’t remember) to the next station and had to wait for the next train. Hmm, maybe the slower coach ride to Centrale at €6.50 would have been better. Hotel – two and a half hours later. At least I’m on the top floor with a view, the local petrol station. When in Italy do as the Romans do, in this case, feed them to the lions.

Dinner was exceptionally good. It always helps to have a hunky Italian with you. No idea what was said and no menu was brought to us. I only understood that no fresh “ricci” (sea urchin) was available – my only request for the evening. Scallops, prawns, mussels (cozze) and then a salad of pulpo and the freshest baby green leaves lightly dressed in DOP EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). Hmm, then lobster linguine. By then it was impossible to get any dessert in. Lovely bottle of Sardo white to wash it all down. Now even the hunk began to worry about the bill. We did not leave the hunk to do the washing.

Sleep -have been up for twenty hours.

Montepulciano and Montalcino

Heart of Tuscany – where bedbugs do bite, rustic cooking does exist and such deep holes on the dirt tracks, chickens can’t cross… but, absolutely breathtaking scenery and the Black Truffle is king.


Best of all, the working ‘original’ Cinqucento at the Agriturismo.

Bit of advice – get a SatNav. It’s crucial for sanity if one intends to enjoy the view and not have one’s head stuck in a map while the driver abuses one. Sign posts are few and far between and directions suddenly disappear as fast as they appear. Alternatively – be blessed with C, our virtual routemaster. Thank God for mobiles!

The motorway stops are clean, the duppio is marvellous and they double up nicely as supermarkets with a fantastic array of salami, cheeses and all things culinary. Great stop before the airport and much cheaper, too.

Montalcino is devine. A hilly little place with shop after shop selling the local Brunello and Pinci pasta. Definitely worth a stop and walk. Look for the little bakery selling the local panforte.


Lucca in Toscana

Tuscan life. Flight to Pisa from Gatwick was painless. Car rental: remind me never to accept an upgrade of any sort ever again in Italy with or without the Sat Nav! It was almost instant implosion, coupled with murder, suicide and divorce all in one. The brand new Merc Estate was almost left in the walled city of Lucca in a quarter turn position down the wrong way of a one way street.

Things calmed down after a good soak in the jacuzzi, checked emails on the free WIFI, and, we did have a marvellous dinner over a great bottle of Frescobaldi Chianti Reserva. Even managed to strike up conversation with a German couple and shared wines (they ordered a Brunello). Best of all, no driving back to the hotel. The car was parked in a lock up garage.


Puccini’s house was small. His statue is in the square by the Hotel Puccini (don’t stay there if you have luggage… pedestrianised area and there is NO way you can drive there!!!) There is even a shop that sells all things Puccini.

A walk along the wall is a must with a bag of fresh figs – both green and black.

Shanghai, China

As Virgin Atlantic flight 250 gently descends onto the runway, my heart begins to flutter. The most exillerating feeling runs through me. Shanghai for the 4th time in just over a year still cannot stop me or bore me.  I am about to spend time in one of the world’s most excitingly sensual cities, again….

Pudong’s new terminal 2 is antiseptically clean. There are no queues. The plane was only a third full. The usher points to Counter 44. Hmm, never a good number to be stuck with. A slight irritation occurs. I am asked for my name in Chinese, written in Chinese. It makes no sense as I scribble the Chinese characters on my landing card. I do it as best as I can. When the light flashes on the counter asking me to rate my experience at the peril of the immigration officer, I press the non committal button but only after my passport is returned to me. No, she didn’t deserve the top extra smiley face.

Luggage was out, lifelessly revolving round the new squeaky conveyor number 8 by the time we had gone through immigration. Everything in my life is about numerals. I’m Chinese, I reassure myself. Nothing wrong with that.

A HSBC cash machine is the next stop. Checking carefully as 3000RMB is expelled. We head for the taxi rank. 88YongShou Lu by JinLing Lu is the destination. For the first time in months, Mandarin hits my ears. It seemed so normal.

The Toyota heads off. The smell of Shanghai is numbingly oriental. At 8am in the morning, the sun is shining. There is no pollution in the crisp air. The forty minute trip included a sightseeing tour, passing the construction site of Shanghai’s 2010 Expo, filled with cranes and labourers with the firework like sparking of electric saws in the distance.

People everywhere. Bicycles, bells, hawkers, as we head into the city centre. The aromas change. The noise changes. Roads narrow down drastically. I am tranced by the skill of the taxi driver.

New Harbour Apartment block is the same. It felt like I had never left Shanghai. Same receptionist, anal to the minutest detail on the check-in form. The meal cards are carefully counted. Each one with a neat stamp of the issuance date. The bell boy, in his royal blue uniform and pillbox hat takes our luggage. 1601. That’s OK, my mind still working overtime on numerals.

Time didn’t matter anymore. I was in Shanghai. Racing through my mind, Zhengjien Baojis, hairy crabs, XiaoLong bao, and everything Shanghainese. But I wasn’t hungry. Adrenalin pumping I couldn’t wait to hit the city. All my favourite spots.